How to Childproof Your Vacation
Because a getaway doesn’t mean you get an escape from tantrums and the ever-present urges to pee.
Illustrations by Bene Rohlmann
Fun for the kids and rest and relaxation for you. It seems simple enough, but as anyone who’s attempted to tour with toddlers or teens can attest, traveling as a family can sometimes feel like the furthest thing from a vacation. These pro parenting tips will upgrade your getaway every step of the way, from finding family-friendly lodging to outsmarting jet lag.
Bring all the Comforts — and Stuff — of Home
For a kid-friendly Airbnb … equipped with a kitchen and space to spread out, click “filters” and “for families” under “trip type” in the Airbnb app. Under “amenities,” you can add items like a crib. Then rent the rest from babyquip.com, which delivers baby gear in 300 markets in the U.S. and Canada.
For a stocked pantry … order groceries to be dropped off at your Airbnb from Instacart or AmazonFresh. Or have Blue Apron send you the recipes and ingredients to make complete meals while on vacay. Check the delivery area before selecting any service, as options may be limited depending on location.
Get the 411 from Other Families
Ask the Worldschoolers. Nearly 49,000 parents who homeschool while traveling gather on the Worldschoolers Facebook page. You can likely find answers to specific questions like “Where can I get a meal for four under $20 in Bangkok?”
Ask an expat. Emma from Doha, Qatar, a British blogger at Wanderlust and Wet Wipes and a mom of two, always searches “expats in” and her destination on Facebook and Google to find pages or groups created by locals and expats.
Hit up the playground. When you arrive at your destination, scope out the local park and get info from other parents.
Follow kid-tested itineraries. At Nugget.travel, parents post their fave excursions — like a searching-for-Bigfoot hike in Oregon or a stroopwafel-fueled tour that takes in Rotterdam’s maritime history — and tips regarding the bathroom situation, stroller accessibility, and least-crowded times.
3 Travel Items You Didn’t Know You Needed
1. Sticky place mats: Adhere Neat Solutions Table Toppers to germy airplane trays and restaurant tables, so your pint-sized foodie can eat his meal straight off the surface. ($16 for 60, amazon.com)
2. Pack-flat potty: “I’ve used the Potette Plus everywhere from my car’s rear cargo space to the inside of a bathroom when my child wasn’t comfortable with the big toilet,” says Jen L’Italien, a mom of two and a potty-training consultant in Maine. ($16, bedbathandbeyond.com)
3. Take-anywhere car booster seat:It’s always best to bring your own for a ride in a taxi, Uber, or rental. Perfect for youngsters who are at least 40 pounds, the Graco TurboBooster TakeAlong Backless Booster folds up to easily slip into a backpack. ($50, gracobaby.com)
Be a Road-Trip Warrior
Factor in stops. “It’s good for everyone, even the driver, to take a break every three to four hours,” says Grainne Kelly, a certified child-passenger-safety technician. Try to swing by a playground or anywhere there’s space to run. “Having that outlet will help kids physically and mentally prep for the next leg,” she says. But if you have a child who suffers from motion sickness, it’s smart to pull over every two hours for fresh air.
Fend off carsickness. Crank the AC or open windows to keep nausea at bay, sans meds, says Christina Johns, MD, a pediatrician in Annapolis, Maryland. “Warmer temperatures tend to amplify the senses, so smell and taste are heightened, which can make motion sickness worse,” explains Johns. If you know that one child tends to get queasy, move him into the middle seat, so he can look directly out the front window and stare at the horizon line, she says.
Be prepared for the worst. In the event one of your kids does get sick, you’ll be glad you stocked the car with paper towels and absorbent emesis bags (CareBag, $19 for 20, amazon.com), which neatly contain and seal up messes. Kill odors and clean up with a spray bottle filled with water and white vinegar that you can stash in the trunk.
Sidestep a Meltdown at 35,000 Feet
Take advantage of their short attention spans and employ the art of misdirection.
Pack an arsenal. Download an iPad with favorite movies and apps. Be sure to have backup activity books and games in case the battery dies. Bring a comfort item (like a teddy bear or blanket) to help them cope with the change, and lots of low-sugar snacks.
Play “Would you rather…?” “‘Would you rather eat a bug or step on a spider?’ works for almost any age and needs no equipment,” says Shannon Philpott-Sanders, an Illinois-based mom of two and the author of Screen-Free Fun.
Materialize a surprise. Bring cheap, tiny toys to whip out at crucial moments. “My daughter loves to arrange gel clings on a window or tray table,” says Leah Althiser of the Frugal South blog. “It’s a mess-free, sensory-stimulating activity.”
“Earplugs can block noise, but they won’t do anything for ear pressure. Instead, during take-off and landing, give kids gum, a lollipop, or a drink so they swallow to make ears pop. For babies, try nursing or a bottle.”
— Claire McCarthy, MD, pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital
Outsmart Jet Lag
Acclimate to a new meal schedule. A 2017 study suggested that shifting meals to match your destination may help sync one’s body clock. (For example, eat your usual 6 p.m. EST dinner at 6 p.m. PST, even if it feels wrong.)
BYO bed. Turn an economy seat into a business-class bed for kids with the Fly Tot inflatable airplane cushion ($79, fly-tot.com). It may make that six-hour flight bearable for everyone on board.
Get a head start. Begin changing your kids’ circadian rhythms three days before a flight by exposing them to sunlight and gradually adjusting bedtimes to correspond with your destination, says professor Helen Burgess of the University of Michigan Medical School. Jetlagrooster.com will help you calculate exactly when to get sun and when to rise to optimize your jet-lag reduction.
Deal with Food Allergies Wherever You Go
On the plane: Call ahead to learn the airline’s food policy, says Julie Wen, MD, a pediatrician and member of the International Society of Travel Medicine based in Bellevue, Washington. JetBlue, for instance, will create a buffer zone around your seats so no allergens will be near you. Wen, whose daughter has a serious fish allergy, also suggests wet-wiping seats and tables.
At your Airbnb: “Write a list of the 24-hour pharmacies near your destination and alert your doctor where you’ll be traveling,” says Edward Lisberg, MD, a pediatric allergist in Illinois. If you’re going abroad, research what the 911 equivalent is there.
At a restaurant: If you’re worried your Parisian waiter won’t understand your bungled version of “no peanuts, please,” come prepared with an Allergy Translation Card ($8 per card, per language, allergytranslation.com), which explains your child’s specific needs in 42 languages. (Ultimately, though, the safest option may be to cook meals in your Airbnb kitchen.)
Book a Sitter Anywhere
And lastly, for $39 per month, you can find recommended babysitters in 20 countries via care.com.
About the author: Danielle Braff is a freelancer who writes about travel, parenting, and business. She lives with her two daughters, husband, dog, and two cats in Chicago. When she’s not glued to her computer, you could find her reading, traveling, or trying to convince her husband to adopt another dog.